That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: First Samuel (page 1 of 3)

Imaginative Contemplation – Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 14, 2018

Introductory Comment:

Before I offer my homily this morning, I want to say something about a verse I have chosen not to address. Nathanael asks, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Many of my clergy colleagues this week have made note of the question the president has been quoted as asking about Haiti and other countries, and they have chosen to focus their sermons this morning on issues of immigration. I have not; I had already chosen my focus verse for today and decided not to make any change. Nonetheless, I want join my colleagues in pointing out that in the First Century, the hometown of our Lord and Savior was regarded in much the same way that Mr. Trump is said to have considered the countries of the Caribbean, of Latin America, and of Africa. Can anything good come from such places? I encourage you in your prayerful meditations on the Gospel, regardless of how you may feel about the president, about his immigration policies, or his alleged remarks, to remember Nathanael’s question and the answer that has echoed through the centuries.

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JOLT! – A Sermon for Proper28B, Pentecost 25, November 15, 2015

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A sermon offered on Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28B, Track 1, RCL), November 15, 2015, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are 1 Samuel 1:4-20; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Hebrews 10:11-25; and Mark 13:1-8. These lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page. The collect for the day, referenced in the sermon, is found at the same site.)

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JOLTWhen you sit there in the pew and I stand here in the pulpit and say to you “The Bible says this . . . .” or “The Church teaches that . . . .”, how do you know that I’m telling you the truth? When the writer of the Letter to Hebrews admonishes you to “approach [the sanctuary of God] with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” how do you have that assurance? When that writer, again, encourages you to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,” how do you know what that confession is? And when Jesus commands you, “Beware that no one leads you astray,” how do you make the judgment to exercise that caution?

I submit to you that all of those questions have one answer: on-going Christian formation, lifelong Christian learning, adult Christian education, call it what you will it boils down to the same thing – using, on a regular basis, the sense, reason, and intellect with which God has endowed us to enter into ever-deepening understanding of our faith. And it begins, as our opening collect suggested, with hearing, reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting the Holy Scriptures.

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Proper 28, The Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 236)

One of the first things Thomas Cranmer, the first Reformed Archbishop of Canterbury, did after being appointed in 1533 was to convince King Henry VIII to publish an English translation of the Holy Bible and to authorize its public use. Cranmer hired Myles Coverdale to undertake the task and between April of 1539 and December of 1541 seven printings of this translation were made. Because of its large physical size, it was called The Great Bible. Copies of it were distributed to every church in England, chained to pulpits or lecterns, and there made available to any literate person who wished to come and read the Holy Scriptures for themselves. In addition, a reader was provided in every church so that the illiterate could hear the Word of God in plain English.

Cranmer then undertook, with the assistance of other bishops and scholars, to translate the church’s liturgy from medieval Latin into the common English of the day. He is the chief architect of The Book of Common Prayer, the first edition of which was published in 1549. Cranmer’s vision was of an English national church gathered in household units each morning and evening, gathered in parish churches each Sunday morning, reading through most of the Bible each year. His vision was of a Christian people who would be, in the words of one of our Lenten prayers, “fervent in prayer and in good works.” (Preface for Lent, BCP 1979, page 379) Fervent – on fire – energized for their mission “to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and . . . to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.” (Catechism, BCP 1979, page 855)

Our church continues that tradition with that same vision today through a Daily Office lectionary which leads us through almost the whole of Scripture over the course of two years and a Eucharistic lectionary (which we now share with many other mainstream Christian denominations) that guides us through most of the New Testament in a three-year cycle and much of the Old Testament in a six-year cycle. In this, we continue what Australian priest and author Adam Lowe calls the “extremely strong tradition” of “Anglican openness to the Bible.” (Blog entry October 29, 2010)

When Cranmer and his colleagues devised the annual cycle of prayer and reading embodied in the Prayer Book, they created also the cycle of weekly collects which begin Sunday worship services. On the First Sunday of Advent each year, their calendar of collects bid the church pray for God’s grace to “cast awaye the workes of darknes, and put upon us the armour of light.” (BCP of 1549) We still offer that same prayer on Advent 1. On the Second Sunday of Advent, they prescribed the original version of the collect which we now pray on this, the penultimate Sunday of the church year.

Although the “collect of the day” is (according to the rubrics in the BCP) normally said only by “the Celebrant,” today I asked that we all read that prayer together. I did so to underscore the corporate nature of that and every prayer said during worship; the Presider does not pray alone. The word “Amen,” in which the congregation joins at the end of every prayer, is a Hebrew word meaning “So be it.” It means, “Yes! We agree. We said that prayer with you. That’s our prayer.” So, this morning, we made it our prayer not only in agreement but in fact, our prayer and our commitment that we, each one of us and all of us together, will “hear [the holy Scriptures], read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” We Anglicans have all been making that commitment, at least once a year, for 466 years!

We’ve been making that commitment, but let’s be honest, we’ve not been very good at keeping it. Even though our church teaches (in the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation) that “faith formation . . . is a lifelong journey with Christ, in Christ, and to Christ,” a lifelong process of “growth in the knowledge, service, and love of God as followers of Christ . . . informed by scripture, tradition, and reason,” I’ve been told by adult members of our church that (and I quote) “I don’t need any adult education.” Well . . . I can only tell you my experience.

When I moved back to Las Vegas as an adult in 1976 and, after a half-dozen years of not being active in the church, decided to attend Christ Episcopal Church, one of the first things I was invited to do was attend an adult education class. I’m glad I accepted the invitation. For the next dozen years I took part in at least one adult study every year, then I read for Holy Orders and got ordained, and for the last quarter century as a professional clergy person I have studied Scripture and church tradition nearly every day . . . and I still learn things. In fact, preparing for this sermon this past week I learned some things about The Great Bible that I hadn’t known before.

As I told you last week, because of my study of Scripture and church tradition, I believe that “God Loves Everyone – No Exceptions” is unqualifiedly true; for the same reason, I believe that “I don’t need any adult education” is unqualifiedly false. No one is ever too young, too old, or too knowledgeable to learn. And when we don’t make the effort and take the opportunity to do so, our fervor diminishes, the fire dies, the energy dissipates, and (in the words of our Ash Wednesday litany) we “fail to commend the faith that is in us” (BCP 1979, page 268).

So we have prayed every year for the grace to “hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Holy Scriptures, and by so praying have committed ourselves to undertake the lifelong Christian formation that that implies, but what do these five educational activities entail? English priest and poet Malcolm Guite has called them “five glorious verbs” which “deepen as they follow one another in intensity of engagement.” (Blog entry December 8, 2012)

Of hearing, Guite writes that this is “where most people, at the time of [our opening collect’s] composition would start; with hearing! Most people weren’t literate, and though the reformers had made sure a Bible ‘in a language understanded of the people’ was set in every church, most people had to hear it read aloud by someone else.” And many people are still there, at the hearing stage. We may hear the words proclaimed in worship and preached on from the pulpit, but though we may have a Bible in our homes, it is seldom opened. We really have to take the next step of our commitment: we have to read Holy Scripture ourselves.

Guite correctly notes that “the translation of the Bible into English was the single greatest spur to the growth of literacy in the English-speaking world and Bible translation remains today one of the great drivers of literacy and education with all the good that follows.” It was the Renaissance scientist Galileo Galilei who said, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” (Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, 1615) When we fail to read the Bible, we do forego their use, but when we study Scripture and tradition for ourselves we honor these gifts of God, with all the literacy, education, and good that flow from them.

The third verb in our prayer is “mark,” which in Cranmer’s day meant simply to “pay attention.” I’m one of those people who actually does mark pages as I read. My books (including my study Bible) are filled with color-coded highlights and marginal notations. Guite suggests that the action flows in both directions, that when we study the words of God they “underscore in us those passages which are marked out by God to make their particular mark in us.”

We all know what “learning” is; it happens when (as the dictionary tells us) we “acquire knowledge of or skill in [something] by study, instruction, or experience.” Guite reminds us, though, that we often talk of “learning by heart” and drawing on that he describes learning ascreating pathways in and through our hearts. He tells the story of visiting an elderly woman suffering dementia when he was newly ordained:

At a loss as to how to pray I began to recite the 23rd psalm. Suddenly I became aware of a voice beside me, faint at first but growing stronger. It was the old woman joining in through laboured breath. I had a strong sense that the person speaking these words was not the wandered old lady but the little girl who had learnt them all those years ago. We made it to the end of the psalm together and she died peacefully as I was saying the Gloria. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” were the last words on her lips.

Though dimmed with age and dementia, the fervor, the fire, the energy of her learning still coursed the pathways in and through her heart.

And, finally, our collect commits us to “inwardly digest” what we hear, read, mark, and learn. Guite reminds us of Jesus words to Satan, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt 4:4) Says Guite, “We are to live on, and be sustained by scripture just as we live on and are sustained by bread, to take it in daily till it becomes transformed into part of the very substance of who we are, giving us new strength.” Daily, lifelong learning gives us the fervor, the fire, the energy needed for life.

Adam Lowe, whom I mentioned earlier, insists that this commitment to inwardly digest Scripture demands that we study it corporately. He suggests that the three spheres in which we encounter the Bible – personal study and devotion, in small study groups, and as a worshiping community – are not separate but complementary, and that we need all three to fully “digest” the Scriptures. We learn best when we learn together. Lowe says, “We are to read [Scripture] in fullness and in depth, with each other, and also with God; with our hearts, heads, and hands. Not just that the sound may reach our ears, but be so inwardly digested that it transforms our lives and is reflected outwards and onwards.”

This is the goal of the Episcopal Church’s commitment to lifelong Christian formation, fostering and sustaining spiritual transformation so that we, individually and corporately, may live “into the reality that we are all created in the image of God and carry out God’s work of reconciliation, love, forgiveness, healing, justice, and peace.” (Charter for Lifelong Faith Formation) To that end, I am delighted that our vestry has taken seized opportunity for us to be one of five parishes working with the Vibrant Faith consultancy group to pilot a program of event-centered intergenerational Christian learning that we at St. Paul’s, Medina, are calling JOLT! – The Joy Of Learning Together!

The goal of JOLT! is to (in the words of our parish vision statement) “Set Hearts on Fire with Jesus Christ” so that all of us may

  • Grow in our relationship with God;
  • Live as disciples of Jesus in all areas of our lives;
  • Develop an understanding of the Bible;
  • Deepen our spiritual lives and practices;
  • Engage in service and mission to the world; and
  • Participate in the life and ministries of the church.

In short, the goal of JOLT! is to continue and to live into the vision of Archbishop Cranmer, the vision with which our Anglican tradition began, to form us into a people “fervent in prayer and good works,” a people who “hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Holy Scriptures, a people who when admonished to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering” know exactly what that means, a people who when commanded to “beware that no one leads you astray” know very well how to exercise that caution.

I encourage you to be a part of JOLT! Participate in the first JOLT! Event on December 9, because it is unqualifiedly true that no one is ever too young, too old, or too knowledgeable to learn, and we learn best when we learn together.

Amen.

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Compositional Amenities – From the Daily Office Lectionary

Compositional Amenities

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Thursday in the week of Proper 17, Year 1 (Pentecost 14, 2015)

1 Kings 11:1-2 ~ King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the Israelites, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods;” Solomon clung to these in love.

Today in a New York Times editorial I learned about “compositional amenities,” which the editorialist defined as “the comfort of a common religion and language, mutually shared traditions, and the minimization of cultural conflict.” Bingo! This pegs the concern of the Deuteronomic historians over Solomon’s many wives, as well as the comment made earlier in the First Book of Commons about his offering sacrifice and incense “at the high places,” that is at the places of worship dedicated to Canaanite (and other) gods. (1 Kings 3:3)

In fact, a good deal of the Law’s concern with marriage outside of tribal and clan boundaries, with dietary restrictions, and with other matters can be understood as concern with “compositional amenities.” So, too, can the histories of conquest with ascribe to God the command to thoroughly cleanse the Land of its former inhabitants, including not only all human beings but also all livestock. For example, in the story of Joshua’s victory over the city of Jericho, we are told that the Israelites “devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.” (Josh 6:21) Saul is ordered by Samuel (speaking on God’s behalf), “go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Sam 15:3)

Compositional amenities. It is a concept that explains much in the Hebrew Scriptures, as it explains much in modern social and political behavior. The editorialist used it to understand the supporters of certain American political candidates; the scholars he cited applied it to analysis of European attitudes toward immigration.

Jesus had something to say about “compositional amenities.” He told a story about a traveler who was mugged, left at the side of the road, and eventually aided by someone who overlooked “compositional amenities.” That one, said Jesus, was the victim’s neighbor. In other words, we are to abandon “compositional amenities.” Solomon obviously did! Yet more evidence of his wisdom.

Choices – From the Daily Office Lectionary

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Friday in the week of Proper 11, Daily Office Year 1 (Pentecost 8, 2015)

1 Samuel 31:8-10 ~ When the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. They cut off his head, stripped off his armor, and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to the houses of their idols and to the people. They put his armor in the temple of Astarte; and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan.

The Greek historian Herodotus gave us the name “Palestine,” which he adapted from an Egyptian word “pelesset” which named a sea people who may or may not have been the forerunners of the people named “Philistines” in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Roman Empire solidified Palestine’s place in geography by adopting the name for its eastern Mediterranean province which included the ancient lands of Israel and Judah.

So who are today’s Palestinians? Are they the descendants of the Philistine warriors who so brutally butchered Saul’s body (although they had not killed him)? Or are they (as Mitri Raheb argues) the descendants of the am haaretz, the “people of the land” named frequently in the biblical books of Kings, Chronicles, Leviticus, and Ezekiel, and less frequently elsewhere in the Hebrew writings? For that matter, who are the Jews? Are they the am haaretz? Today there are black Jews, asian Jews, and hispanic Jews, in addition to European ashkenazis and Middle Eastern sephardim. There are diaspora Jews and sabras.

Modern Palestine and contemporary Israel are not the nation-states of the Bible, nor are the people who call them “home” the people of the Bible. What they are, both the nation-states (whether recognized or not) and their residents, are entities which look back to myths and histories of the Bible (and the Qur’an and other texts) and lay claim to parts of those stories. What they are, both the nations and the peoples, are people who choose to be enemies of other people who lay claim to other parts of the same stories.

We choose to be who we are, individually and corporately. Both individuals and groups base their present on selective choices of the past and thereby chart their futures. We can make other choices. The ancient Philistines, happening upon the bodies of Saul and his weapon bearer and his sons, none of whom they had killed, chose to claim those deaths as their own responsibility and, thus, charted a course for generations yet unborn. Each generation, each person has the choice whether to be bound by the choices made by those before them.

Can we choose to be different? Must I, descendent of Irish Protestants, continue the enmity in which they chose to hold Irish Catholics? No, I need not. Must Palestinians and Israelis, whatever their ancestry, continue the enmity their forebears chose? I choose to believe otherwise; I pray that others can, as well.

Religion’s Sensuality – From the Daily Office Lectionary

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Thursday in the week of Proper 11, Daily Office Year 1 (Pentecost 8, 2015)

1 Samuel 28:7 ~ Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, so that I may go to her and inquire of her.” His servants said to him, “There is a medium at Endor.”

Sometime during my childhood, I don’t recall when exactly, I was given an illustrated King James Version of the Holy Scriptures. The illustrations were color plates of a variety of bible stories, but I only remember two of them.

One was Jesus clearing the Temple with a cat-o’-nine-tails. That was an exciting picture! Jesus swinging that whip over his head, his hair flying, tables knocked over, pigeons and lambs scurrying madly away, people looking frightened. Jesus was clearly a bad ass!

The other was Saul consulting the witch of Endor and the shade of Samuel. Samuel was appropriately ghostly ~ white robe, greyish-white long hair and beard, think Ian McKellan as Gandalf. Saul was frightened, cowering before Samuel. But the witch! Ah, the witch! Not your hook-nosed, wart-faced old hag ~ this witch was young and lovely and bare-bosomed, downright erotic for a pre-teen Christian boy. The witch of Endor was a babe!

What’s become of Christianity and Christian art? Jesus is a moralistic twit these days, more worried about what goes on in people’s bedrooms than with what happens in the money-changers’ boardrooms, and God forbid there should be anything erotic in life, especially not nubile young witches!

Well, I say, we need to bring back the bad-ass Jesus who cleanses the courtyard of capitalists; we need to bring back the sexy witches who remind us of religion’s sensuality. God help us if we don’t!

The Fling’s the Thing – From the Daily Office Lectionary

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Wednesday in the week of Proper 11, Yr 1 (Pentecost 8, 2015)

1 Samuel 25:29 [Abigail said to David,] “If anyone should rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living under the care of the Lord your God; but the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling.”

Several years ago there was a television show called Northern Exposure which was a favorite of mine. At the time it was in first run episodes, I was living apart from my family while attending seminary, living in a student dormitory. One of my dormitory neighbors owned a big screen color television and paid the fee for cable feed, so when Northern Exposure came on several of us would pile into her room, drinks and snacks in hand, for an hour (or more) of pure escape, wonderful camaraderie, fun, and games; we had a party there each of those show nights. When I read the words “bound in the bundle of the living,” when I think of church community, those evenings in my colleague’s dorm room are one of the predominant images. There was life and love, friendship and folly, sustenance and support, all bound and bundled together. ~ In an episode of the show that ran after I’d left the seminary community, a show entitled Burning Down the House, the local morning radio celebrity Chris builds a trebuchet with the intent of flinging a living cow across the town’s lake. Disappointed to learn that the Monty Python crew had already catapulted a cow in their movie Monty Python & the Holy Grail, Chris settles on flinging an upright piano instead (I’m told it was a Mason & Hamlin cabinet grand). That’s an image that comes to mind when I read of David’s enemies being “slung out as from the hollow of a sling.” I see that old piano flying through the cold air, losing some of its pieces as it goes, finally crashing in utter destruction. ~ Two images: the warmth of friends gathered in sustaining community for an evening of fun vs. the cold loneliness of being thrown to complete ruin. I’m amused (and I find it instructive) that both can be described with the same word. Fling, noun, a party, a dance, a shindig. Fling, verb, transitive, to throw, especially with force or abandon; hurl or toss. ~ At the end of the episode, as Chris prepares to cut the tension line on the trebuchet and fling the piano, he says, “It’s not the thing you fling. It’s the fling itself.” Abigail’s reassurance to David reminds us that it’s also the nature of the fling and the One who flings; we choose which fling we will experience at God’s hand.

The Rocks of the Wild Goats – From the Daily Office Lectionary

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Monday in the week of Proper 11, Yr 1 (Pentecost 8, 2015)

1 Samuel 24:2 Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to look for David and his men in the direction of the Rocks of the Wild Goats.

Years ago I from a large western city to a small town in Kansas, a place I’d not lived before. Needing directions to a home I wanted to visit, a farm some miles outside of town, I asked a long-time resident how to get there. You take a particular street, I was told, until you a few miles outside of town where you come to the MacGregors’ barn used to be, then you turn there. While perhaps helpful instructions for another long-time resident who may have known the MacGregors or where their barn used to stand, this did not help me even a little bit. I sometimes feel that way about the stories in the Bible. Clearly, “the Rocks of the Wild Goats” was a place well-known to the original teller and the first hearers of the history of Saul and David; perhaps it still is to their descendants still living in the land. To one removed, however, by 2,500 or so years and several thousand miles, the meaning of the landmark is lost. ~ Landmarks, the dictionary tells, are prominent features of the landscape, natural or artificial, used for navigation; they are clearly visible and generally can be sighted well in advance (even the place where MacGregor’s barn used to be can be seen ahead of time by someone with the necessary knowledge). The term also applies to events which mark important stages of personal or social development or turning points in life or history. In this latter sense, particularly in one’s personal life, landmarks are only known in retrospect. ~ I first read this passage of First Samuel several years ago when I began my discipline of reciting the Daily Office; I’ve now read it perhaps fifteen times. On that first reading, I was struck by the poetry of the image and penned a sonnet about the images of rocks or stones in Scripture (it was an embarrassingly inept poem, long discarded). Since then, I have found it more useful as a metaphor for life’s landmark events. Often when taking stock of my life (as clergy are wont and even encouraged to do from time to time), I will ask “Where have I been in the Rocks of the Wild Goats?” Where are those events where the unsure footing has caused me to turn one direction or another, away from the path I had thought I was on? Where did I struggle to climb a difficult trail, or slide down an unexpected incline? ~ I don’t know where Saul’s and David’s Rocks of the Wild Goats were and, to be honest, I frequently don’t know where my own are, either. Only when I look back over the way I have come do I see them.

Do We Lack Madmen? – From the Daily Office Lectionary

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Friday in the week of Proper 10, Yr 1 (Pentecost 7, 2015)

1 Samuel 21:15 ~ Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence?

“Do I lack madmen?” asked Achish, King of Gath, when David, pretending to be mad, was brought before him. Consider what has been brought before us in recent days . . . . ~ Members of Congress condemn an important nuclear arms agreement before even reading it simply because they believe it not perfect and (more importantly) because they are in the habit of opposing everything the president (from the other party) champions. Perfection thus becomes the enemy of good and party politics the enemy of governing. ~ White citizens stand at the side of the road in Oklahoma and wave Confederate battle flags as the black President of the United States drives by. Free speech and public expression become the enemy of patriotism and simple good manners. ~ The Pope issues a statement on the moral implications of human activity causing climate change and calling for repentance and change of behavior; his decree is meant with opposition by fossil-fuel industry spokespersons (and from politicians given large donations by that industry) who suggest that the Pope leave science to the scientists. Business becomes the enemy of religion and ethics. ~ The bishops of the Episcopal Church refuse to even consider the possibility of taking a position with regard to the Israeli occupation of Palestine out of fear that church-run hospitals and schools might be impacted by government reprisals. Medical and educational ministries become the enemy of prophetic action. ~ Do we lack madmen? Have we ever lacked madmen?

Teaching, Not Nature – From the Daily Office Lectionary

From the Daily Office Lectionary (Yr 1), Saturday in the week of Proper 9B (Pentecost 6, 2015)
1 Samuel 17
43 The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.

Yesterday, I was listening to a news commentary on NPR while there was a discussion of the so-called “Islamic State” (“ISIS”) and whether it had any pretentions of attacking Israel. There have apparently been some arrests of Bedouins in the occupied West Bank and of Palestinians in East Jerusalem who are claimed to be ISIS confederates. An expert “talking head” was being interviewed and in the course of his comments said of Jews and Muslims, “They are natural enemies, of course.” ~ I frequently talk back to my radio . . . and talk back I did: “No!” I shouted. “They are not!” I’m willing to admit that in the animal kingdom there may be a few sorts “natural enemies;” the cobra and the mongoose, for example, seem always to be at odds, and there may be other pairs like them. Between differing species there may be natural enmity, but I am unwilling to say there is natural enmity between groups of the same species, especially between groups of human beings. There may be natural rivalry, but not natural enmity. ~ Enmity is not natural; it must be taught. Even the relationship of predator and prey, though it may be “natural,” is not necessarily one of enmity. The young of predator and prey species, raised together, coexist peacefully. The internet is filled with videos of cats and mice being chummy, of dogs and deer who are best buds, of cats and birds playing together. Unless a parent animal teaches her offspring to hunt and kill their “natural prey,” they will not do so. Unless a parent human teaches his or her offspring to fight and kill those of another group, they will not do so. David the Israelite and Goliath the Philistine need not have been enemies; contemporary Israelis and Palestinians need not be enemies. The former were and the latter are taught to hate, taught to fight, taught to kill. As Lieutenant Cable sings in Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

It’s teaching that makes enemies, not nature.

Yeah, Not So Much – From the Daily Office Lectionary

From the Daily Office Lectionary (Yr 1), Thursday in the week of Proper 9B (Pentecost 6, 2015)
1 Samuel 16
14 Now the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.

I can relate. At least to the first part of the verse. How often have I stared at a blank paper or a blank computer screen wondering what to write? Whether it be a letter of condolence to a parishioner who’s lost a family member, note of congratulations to someone, a report to the vestry, or (worst of all) a sermon for next Sunday, what secular authors know as “writer’s block” hits hard and I am left completely uninspired (which, as you know, means that the spirit is absent). That’s been the case most of this week. I’ve had to write two letters of condolence, one newsletter squib, a letter in response to a complaint about a sermon (thank heaven, those aren’t often required), and some sort of something to preach next Sunday, and it’s been like pulling teeth without anesthetic to get the words put together. When I’ve tried to write for this blog . . . nothing; that’s why there’s been no entry for a few days. So I read this verse (or the first half of this verse, anyway) and I can relate. – But “an evil spirit from the Lord”? I don’t get that. What does that mean? If the text simply said “an evil spirit,” it would make sense to me. If it say “an evil spirit from Satan (or the tempter or the devil or Baal or some other agency),” that would make sense. But “an evil spirit from the Lord”? I don’t get that. Does God really send “evil spirits to torment” God’s people? This is, honestly, one of those times when I have to look at the Hebrew Scriptures through the lens of the Gospel, squint, and say, “Yeah. Not so much. I think you got that one wrong.” As one of my seminar professors would have said, “The Gospel trumps the Bible.”

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